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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Instructional Computing II Journal 4: Virtual Environments

- In what ways can multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs) contribute to the learning experience?
- Do MUVEs benefit certain students or groups more than others?

After this week's readings and podcasts, I began to question the validity of multi-user virtual environments.  Is learning through virtual environments and avatars ACTUALLY experiential learning?  Well what is experiential learning? According to Wikipedia experiential learning is, "the process of making meaning from direct experience."  DIRECT is the key word I see here.  Gee's (2008) article spoke about children reading a story then using figures to act concepts out.  They were touching, feeling, role-playing, face-to-face.  This is experiential in nature by my personal (albeit conventional) definition.  I began to ponder if if MUVEs are as effective as "traditional" experiential learning and provide the full experience required by learners.

MUVEs can contribute to the learning experience because they enhance the educational experience for the user or learner. Even if the MUVE is a virtual field trip; that field trip may be the only field trip a home-bound student may be able to experience.  These MUVEs can open up a world of possibilities for many students and save in costs to schools.  MUVEs are not necessarily cost-free though.  The schools still need the technology (computers, microphones, cameras, etc.) and some software and virtual worlds come with membership fees.  Essentially, my point is that MUVEs take learning a step further than we can in the traditional classroom and this can make the experience more memorable.  We want to make learning stick right?

Wallace's (2010) podcast about the social inclusion that virtual worlds offer is an interesting standpoint as well.  MUVEs allow users to create an avatar to represent themselves and take part in a community.  So how can that be used in the educational setting?  "Social groups exist to induct newcomers into distinctive experiences, and ways of interpreting and using those experiences, for achieving goals and solving problems," (Gee, 2008). Users can be a part of a group that learns in a multi-sensory environment while cooperating with one another.  They are learning those "hard" academic skills and well as the "soft skills" like teamwork, cooperation, accountability.  The student who will benefit from this are the ones who participate!  They may also be the students who are seeking a place to feel the inclusion they don't get in the real world. 

So how do these experiences translate into an experiential learning?  "People’s experiences are organized in memory in such a way that they can draw on those experiences as from a data bank, building simulations in their minds that allow them to prepare for action," (Gee, 2008).  So even if the experience is virtual and through an avatar, the user will still file that information into a data bank to be retrieved when they are called into action.  I am still not 100% convinced that MUVEs can replace the real world or are as effective but I will say they have their place in education.  In working with younger children I am not sure which MUVE would be most useful for them.

The truth is they are using these environments on their own already!  When I give them free time in the computer lab they automatically go to Moshi Monsters, Club Penguin, or Poptropica to play and interact with one another.  They log in and play with each other while sitting next to each other.  They say meet me at this room or play this game with me at this place.  It's quite amazing to see them navigate their virtual worlds so effortlessly at such a young age.  They don't even realize that they are dipping their little toes into MUVEs.  We shall see what their future holds.


Gee, James Paul. “Learning and Games." The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning. Edited by Katie Salen. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. 21–40

Wallace, P. (2010). Some of My Students Are Not Human! Avatar Interaction and Collaboration in Virtual Worlds. Retrieved from

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